Volvo Ocean Race: A skipper's preview of the third leg

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The Independent Online

Here we are in the countdown to the Boxing Day start to leg three of the Volvo Ocean Race and all is well in the Assa Abloy camp. The crew and shore team have had a productive stop over. The whole boat and rig have been taken apart and every component inspected with replacements made where necessary. The crew have taken time out and allowed their bodies the necessary rest to recover from the thrashing we received in the Southern Ocean.

We have had enough time back on the water to go out sailing to check new sails, make sure that every thing has gone back together OK and to give the boat a good shakedown. Our precious racer looks and feels great. The new sails we have selected came out well and we are just about ready to get back stuck into it again.

A few small finishing jobs left, and most of the boys should be able to have Christmas Eve and Day free. A different format awaits us this leg as on our way to Auckland we take part in the famous Sydney to Hobart Race that starts on Boxing Day.

It has the reputation of being one of the toughest offshore races in the world. It crosses Bass Strait, which always throws some pretty wild weather into the mix. I have done several Hobarts and each has provided some of the windiest and roughest conditions I have ever experienced - one race in particular presented worst conditions that I have ever encountered - even in the Southern Ocean.

The big difference this time is that once we have finished this particularly harsh "sprint" we have a 3 1/2 hour pit stop in Hobart where we are not even allowed to go ashore! What a let down. We spend the time talking to the media and preparing the boat for the rest of the leg all the way to Auckland.

During the pit stop we are not allowed any outside assistance including getting more food or spare equipment. Then we resume the leg in the same order, with the same separation time as we finished the first part from Sydney to Hobart. A new concept for all of us and, I expect, a rather hard one.

At this stage we have a team of experts, including our navigator Mark Rudiger and our new tactician Chris Larson, looking at the weather predictions every day. As yet this looks like it will be no different to most Hobarts - wet, windy and wild.

We will probably leave Sydney on a warm sunny Boxing Day but within a day or so we will find our selves in the middle of the Bass Strait in pretty cold, wild conditions on the wind, bashing into steep and very uncomfortable waves.

Making sure we don't burn out too much in our sprint down to Hobart will be an important issue. We also need to make sure that we don't push the boat so hard that we break it or impair the performance for the later part of the leg - the far longer portion to Auckland.

On the other side of the coin, getting to Hobart at the top of the fleet is also important as an hour lead there could easily turn into several hours later. A hard call but one of the many we face on this leg.

Neal McDonald is skipper of the Assa Abloy

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